Unhappy with his capability as a blocker last season, Kody Kohl set out to do something about it.
Arizona State's senior tight end gained 20-plus pounds since the end of the 2015 season. His physical progress mirrors that of the team's tight end unit as a whole. It's a group of players that is bigger and stronger than at any point in the previous four years of ASU coach Todd Graham's tenure.
It's not just Kohl who is heavier and stronger, as junior Raymond Epps has completed the transition to true full service tight end. Epps looked like a big wide receiver upon arrival out of Arizona Western two years ago. That's no longer the case, as Epps is equally capable working from a 3-point stance as he is as a flexed out receiving option.
Even the Sun Devils' younger players at the position carry the heft that is a huge benefit. Sophomore JayJay Wilson is 6-foot-2 and 259 pounds and yet very agile at that size. Redshirt freshman Thomas Hudson is 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, long and beefy.
That's exactly what Graham wanted. He said the Sun Devils needed to be better at winning the edge of the field. That's not just having the right attitude, it's having the right eating habits and strength and conditioning program. For some, it's mental and physical maturity.
This is Kohl's fifth and final college season. He's older and has age and experience as an advantage he plans to maximize. Even though Kohl is the leading returning pass catcher among tight ends in the Pac-12, he's been candid about being dissatisfied. He thinks he's played beneath his potential, citing key drops and an inability to wear on opponents physically in the run game.
As a leader with true introspection that others look up to, Kohl has set the tone for the group. He's admitted that the team's younger players like Wilson are even more athletically gifted than he is. He's a lifelong Sun Devil fan who wants to leave the program in better shape at the position and is working toward something bigger than his own self-improvement and how that impacts the team.
ASU first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has a background that spans nearly the full spectrum of schematics. Early in his career at the high school level Lindsey got experience with the Wing-T offense. Later, before transitioning to college coaching, he used the Tony Franklin Air Raid system, an uptempo no huddle offense. At Southern Miss, he incorporated more pro-style elements along with Todd Monkey.
Lindsey's offense has evolved into primarily an 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) base look. But given that he has a capable unit of three or four tight ends, he's incorporated some two tight end sets in a fashion that allows for seamless structure changes (read: different formations) without substituting or huddling. Some of this can be done pre-snap with motions and shifts in a way that makes for tougher preparation by opponents.
The Sun Devils won't be dynamite at the tight end position this year because the athleticism of the personnel at its length isn't great among the starters. But the younger players have a higher ceiling in this regard and the position is continuing to improve.
Todd Graham: “I think that transitioning players, you look at how many freshmen All-American we’ve had, you look at the success we’ve had with our junior college players, their success pretty quickly on the field, we do a pretty good job transitioning on the field. I think every guy is different and I’m looking for, I think Raymond (Epps) has really dramatically improved and I’m looking for him to have a great year.”
Todd Graham: "We've made a lot of strides in the last few days in particular at our tight end blocking, and that's been a major point of emphasis for us. Kody (Kohl) has made dramatic improvements, and we still got a long way to go fundamentally. All of our tight ends are blocking better."
Del Alexander: “We’ve got some talent and some depth, it’s not some of those things that you’re worried about who the next guy is and it’s not one of those things that you’re worried about who the next guy is next year. We’ve got years of versatility and players lined up, so we feel great about the position.”
Del Alexander: “[Kody Kohl's] not a real vocal leader, but obviously like most seniors, he’s trying to do everything right. He’s trying to make sure that there’s no stone unturned in his senior year and I think his presence is something that the other guys are gravitating to. You don’t have to just point it out and film and say, look at Kody, you point it out on film and what you’re asking for, you get it.”
Kody Kohl: “I feel like [adding 20 pounds is] going to help me with my blocking. Instead of just being position blocking, I want to be like overpowering the defenders making big holes for our running backs, because we have some of the best running backs in the country. If we can give them the opportunity, as much as I can help them be the best in the Pac-12 or country, then I’m going to do that.”
Kody Kohl: “I’m more impressed with my tight end group every single day. They’re going to surpass me over the next year or so. I’ve worked my *** off for five years, and these guys are on their third year still growing, getting stronger and faster. It’s unbelievable, they’re gonna be really good tight ends.”
Raymond Epps: “Last year, when I came in (last spring), it was a lot different from what I was used to playing at JUCO. I definitely had to get stronger, you know, taking on bigger opponents. Kind of through the year last year, on contact, I felt like I needed to get a lot stronger. Every time, say if I’m on power clean I had 250 (pounds), I wanted to do 265. More weight, do a little bit more to get stronger. Whatever it took for me to get stronger.”
JayJay Wilson: "He's (Kohl) a grinder, he's never a person that asks why he goes, he just does what he's asked and more. We had a two-a-day yesterday, me and him were in the weight room in between practices working out, and I being completely honest, my freshman year if we came back from a two-a-day knowing we had practice later on I probably wouldn't have done that. But being with him for that year, I already knew he was going to be down there in the weight room. He has that effect on me, just as far as making me want to work harder."